When Mom is the “breadwinner”
In May of this year, headlines were made when the Pew Research Center issued a report that revealed 40% of American families with children under age 18 had mothers who were the primary or sole source of income for their family. Fifty years ago only 11% of families had female “breadwinners.” Immediately, the news wires were on fire with discussions, commentary, and analysis on what this meant for the country. Were we really that close to “equality” in jobs, salaries, and roles??
Some groups hailed the findings on women’s earnings as empowering. Finally, here was a positive shift that proved mothers can earn a great salary, have children, and sustain a marriage to an evolved husband who likes his role as chief homemaker and secondary earner.
At the opposite end of the spectrum others asserted that the findings were nothing to brag about as they reflected the imbalance of job losses among male oriented occupations during the 2008 recession. More importantly, the findings actually reveal the staggering increase in single mothers from 7% in 1960 to 25% of all families in 2010. This was nothing to write home about; especially if they weren’t making the same incomes as the other group.
Both sides are right.
Women are faring better in today’s economy and are achieving more educationally than men.
The women who were superior earners to their spouses in the Pew study accounted for 15% of American families, up from 3.5% fifty years ago. And overall these households were earning $2,000/year more than male breadwinner households and $10,000/year more than equal earner households.
The mommy breadwinners who comprised the larger 25% of American families? They are single parents, typically earning about $23,000 a year, for a family of 3, well below the national median family income of $57,000 a year. They are definitely not achieving a so-called work/family balance. Getting through each and every day without a crisis is their priority.
There are two trend lines going in the same direction. Each suggests different outcomes for the next 50 years. But what else might this report mean for how most of us lead our everyday lives?
- First, since headlines do not address interpersonal dynamics, it would probably be premature to kick your husband to the curb because he’s lagging behind on the dishes and the laundry. But if you want to use the data to negotiate a better male/female ratio on household duties, have at it.
- Second, we should always look underneath the headlines, because the larger increase of and lower projected income potential among single parents is a sobering reminder that society does not provide the support system single parenthood truly needs. You are on your own.
As for the power of the paycheck? We should show more praise and admiration for whoever does whatever in the family that is positive and keeps our children on track. Income, labor, or love; all are part of the bottom line for every responsible parent.